Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


Category — BEST POSTS


There’s no money in the arts. My old clarinet teacher told me that.  He used to eat salami sandwiches while I took lessons. That stunk. Mr. Golub. He bought a building across from his music store; named the building after his daughter, The Joyce Manor; and sold it years later. He said he regretted he didn’t move with his brother to D.C. and make an even bigger killing there in a real boom town.

Golub’s Music Center. He had a neon saxophone on the sign. That, alone, drew the customers.  Inside, there were bongos and guitars.

Mr. Golub couldn’t play by ear. That mystified him. Mystifies me — playing by ear. But I can do it —  somewhat.

I’m the klezmer guy. I go to shivas and tell the mourners that, and, yeah, they recognize me. They say, “Oh, you’re the klezmer guy.”

Everybody needs to be some kind of “guy” (or “gal”). I became the klezmer guy because I put together the longest-lasting Jewish band between Chicago and D.C.  Yiddishe Cup.

No mega money in this but it keeps me from going nuts.

A version of this post first appeared 5/12/09. Klezmer Guy post numero-uno.

Yiddishe Cup is at Akron First Night 10-11:30 p.m. Sat. (Dec 31.)

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December 28, 2016   2 Comments


(A version of this appeared in The Forward online on 3/7/12,  minus “Side B”  — a one-minute play about The Schvitz.  There is a lot of swearing in the play.  You’ll like it.)

If you’re a Cleveland Jewish man and have never been to The Schvitz, you are a disgrace.

Real Cleveland Jewish men will regularly malign you, impugning your Jewish bona fides.

The Schvitz is at East 116th Street and Luke Avenue, off Kinsman Road.  (In a lousy neighborhood.)

The Schvitz has no sign.

The Schvitz’s official name is the Mt. Pleasant Russian-Turkish Baths, which nobody uses.  Some people call it the Bathhouse.  Some people call it the Temple of the Holy Steam.  (Attorney Harvey Kugelman does.  Does anybody else?)

Most people call it The Schvitz.  It has photos of Mussolini, Dayan and Patton on the walls.  That’s it for decorations. (Plus a photo of  Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood by the kitchen, reports Mike Madorsky.)

There are three acceptable responses to “Have you ever been to The Schvitz?”

a)  I held my stag there.

b)  I was there with my father.

c)  My grandfather took me there.

The Big Five in Russian-Turkish–style schvitzes are in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland.  I got this list from Billy Buckholtz, the pleytse guy at the Cleveland schvitz.  Billy’s grandfather was the original pleytse guy.  (Pleytse is the rubdown, traditionally done with a broom of soaked oak leaves.  Billy uses a seaweed broom and horsehair brush.)

Cleveland’s schvitz isn’t coed.  Most of the other schvitzes are.  The Detroit schvitz even used to have an orgy night.  The Cleveland schvitz never went coed (aside from a short experiment in the 1970s) because the neighborhood is so bad.  Why encourage women to come to Kinsman?

In The Schvitz’s heyday, it catered to immigrant factory workers who dropped by after work “to get the creosote off their skin, knock down a few shots and get a pleytse,” Billy said. “The immigrants didn’t want to wait in line with their eight kids for the only bathtub at their house.”  Billy told me all this at a Yiddishe Cup gig at an art gallery.  Not at The Schvitz.

I’m not crazy about steam.

I get periodic Schvitz invitations from the Brothers in Perspiration, an ad-hoc group of Cleveland Heights Jews.  The email subject-line reads: “Have a serious jones for the stench of sweat, mildew, steak, cigar, garlic?”

That sounds good, except for the cigar, sweat, mildew and steam.

I’m due back at The Schvitz.

My bona fides.  My bona fides . . .


The Schvitz is a movie and a CD.  Now it’s a  one-minute play . . .

JIMMY, STAN AND KMETT are Cleveland cops at The Schvitz.  They are in the boom-boom room (gas-passing room), lying on cots.

JIMMY, wearing only an Italian good-luck horn pendant:  I used to work patrol with your son Pete in the Fifth.

STAN: That so?  Where you now, Jimmy?

JIMMY: Downtown with homicide.

STAN: Pete is a meter maid in the Fourth.

JIMMY, pointing to another body:  This is Walter Kmett.  He’s with the detective bureau in the Third.

STAN: Did your father go to Latin?

KMETT: Collinwood.

STAN: I knew a Kmett at Latin.

KMETT: That’s my uncle.

STAN, sitting up and looking around:  Is this cops-only night at The Schvitz?

JIMMY:  Why? There are Jews here.  A couple.  I’m Jewish.  They circumcise you right on the spot here.  You’re next.

KMETT: They should have did Hitler.

JIMMY: Hitler was bad news.

KMETT: There are others. Ahmadinejad.  Nobody says nothing.

STAN: The Israelis say “fuck you.”

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY walks in, waving his brush:  Step right up. Twenty dollars for goys, twenty-five for Jews.  I can do everything your wife can — everything for the last twenty years.

KMETT: Really, Billy?  My wife and I have something magical going on.


KMETT: Tonight I’m making her disappear.

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY:  What’s the admission charge?

KMETT:  For you, twenty-five dollars.  Where you been?

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY:  I just got back from LA.

KMETT: Why there?

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: My kids are out there.

KMETT: Nice.

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Not nice.  California is one vast shithole.  Everybody’s so casual there, it rubs off on the kids.  What about you?

KMETT:  I was down in Florida, visiting my dad.  He  sits on the toilet all day and reads about how to make a putt.  That’s what they do down there.  He got his pension — 66 percent.  A shine tried to poke his eye out.

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Did you hear Ralph Friedman got 72 percent for a hangnail?

KMETT: Ralph is a scumbag.  A hangnail?

JIMMY: He’s a slime bag.

KMETT: He’s the shit in the toilet.

BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY:  Ralph Friedman is my cousin.

KMETT: Your cousin?  He’s still a slime bag.

STAN: Ralph is smart, I’ll grant you that.  He was the Einstein of  S.I.U.

KMETT: He’s a scumbag!

JIMMY: Ralphy the Alkie.  He sampled more booze than Eliot Ness.  Ralphy could smell booze a mile away.

STAN: He’s a goose.

BILLY THE PLEYSTE GUY:  He’s not my cousin.

JIMMY: You schmuck, why’d you say he was your cousin?   Where are the steaks?

KMETT: It smells in here.

BILLY THE PLEYSTE GUY:  That’s garlic.

KMETT: That’s not garlic. This place is one vast shithole.

Ralph Solonitz’s  illustrations, above, were in The Forward  print edition, 3/16/12, and online, 3/7/12.


Re: Kickstarter

I’m dubious of over-40-year-olds asking for money on Kickstarter.

My friend Mike got hit up by an old guy/ friend who was trying to raise $100,000 for a sculpture project. Mike said to me, “Let him get a job. What am I — his relative?”

Under 40, you can play Kickstarter.

Synth-player Jack Stratton and banjoist Rob Stenson are trying to raise $2,400 on Kickstarter. The young duo has 10 days left to reach its goal. They are more than halfway there, with $1243 and 70 backers.

Kickstarter chose the Stenson-Stratton project as a pick-of-the-week. The project video (below) features Jack as a German.  Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler wrote, “These guys make the best/weirdest projects.”   (Helps if you’re under 40 — like Strickler and his Kickstarter crew — to fully appreciate the vid and work.)

Watch the video, then click here to donate.

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May 23, 2012   8 Comments


When Alice Gibson, a tenant, skipped out, I phoned her because she left her apartment purple, black and yellow.

She didn’t want to talk about that.  She wanted to talk about why I hadn’t changed the toilet seat when she moved in, and why I hadn’t fixed the ceiling in her hallway, and why had my building manager told her she could paint the walls purple, black and yellow if she couldn’t.


Ms. Gibson had never been late on her rent. She was there two years.  She was a good tenant.

But she skipped and used weird paint colors.

“Didn’t you get my final month’s rent?” she said. “I sent it with a note saying I was moving.”

I didn’t receive the check. It was the twentieth day of the month. I went dumpster-diving in my wastebasket for the check.


"I see a Johnnie Walker but no Gibson."

I had a 30-gallon wastebasket.  I wondered how many more times I would go dumpster-diving for liars.

Ms. Gibson had seven months left on her lease. I called her back and threatened to take her to court.

She said, “Go ahead, I’m broke.”

“It’ll be on your public record,” I said. “If you try to buy a car or a house, the ‘public record’ will be on your credit report. At least pay this month’s rent.  You said you mailed it.  I didn’t get it.  So mail it again. Do the right thing.”

She said she would send one-half month’s rent.

I started talking Spanish with her — for bonding’s sake.   A half month’s rent! Better than nothing.   I knew she was going to Argentina.  I ended in English: “Make sure you send it. You know, you painted the kitchen cabinets black.”

“And those cabinets look a lot better than when I moved in!” she said.

I didn’t get the half month’s rent.

I left Ms. Gibson a voice mail: “Pay the half month’s rent. Give it to the Pony Express, or the mailman, or hand-
deliver it to me.  If you don’t, I’m going to sue you.  I don’t care if you are broke.  It’s not right what you’re doing.”

My new tenant — post-Gibson — liked the black cabinets. He also liked Ms. Gibson’s yellow paint job in the kitchen.

Alice Gibson saved me some money on re-painting.  She knew her colors.

She had some pluses.

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May 18, 2011   5 Comments


My father, Toby, was a lot like his mother.  One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”  (Don’t you be a chump.)  Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building.  She was nobody’s sucker.

Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy).  She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother).   I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet.  She could eat. She had sugar diabetes.   Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964).  Circa 1951.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964). Circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from.  I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko.  She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.”  That was dead wrong, but it made sense.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us.  At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance).  Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher.  Keeping kosher was too expensive.  Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.

Bub, circa 1904.

Bub, circa 1904.

At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again.  My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat?  It’s not kosher!”

Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil.  1964

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil. 1964

“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?”  said Delaware Lil.

“Yes,” said Washington Lil.

“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.

My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.)   Mild laughter.  My mom was the peace-maker.

And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time.  Years.

. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl.  The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names.  That was the trick.  And there were several Grodziskos.

Mili Seiger 1939

Mili Seiger 1939

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.”  It was from cousin Rachela Seiger.  It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?”  On the flip side was a photo of  Rachela’s  sister Mili.

The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives.  There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews.  Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.  Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust.  Each about a third.  These are my people.


This story was cross-posted on  The Forward, online, last month.

Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”

Footnote . . .  Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:


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March 23, 2011   10 Comments


When I was home for college vacation, my mother suggested I go to the West Side with my father. (“West Side” meant the apartment biz.)

My mother never went to the West Side.  She didn’t go once!  I listened to my dad talk about boiler additives and sump pumps.  My dad carried an Allen wrench to adjust boiler controls.

I nearly died on the West Side.  I had seen Roland Kirk at the Eastown Motor Hotel, East Cleveland; Sonny Stitt at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit; Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London.  And now I was on the West Side talking about radiator vents.

cup-reporter-pad1I watched the Dick Cavett Show and hung out with old high school buddies, who were also home for vacation.  One bastard was applying to medical school.  Another was studying for the CPA exam.  One was a cub reporter.

In Ann Arbor, my college friends were mostly still listening to the MC5 soundtrack:  “You must choose, brothers and sisters, if you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution!”

I didn’t want to be part of the problem or the solution. My worst hometown scenario: a high school acquaintance was studying nursing home administration.  How did he come up with that one?  He didn’t.  His mother did.

I gave my parents tsuris.  College was nonsense, I said.  And I quit.

I wound up in front of the draft board.  The whole nine yards: bend over, touch your toes, spread your cheeks.  I had a low number (42) in the draft lottery.

At the Selective Service office, I pondered the mechanical aptitude exam, which had drawings of carburetors and brake shoes.  This test pretty much stumped me.  Some of the other test-takers loved it.  The test-takers were from my neighborhood.  (The draft board went by neighborhoods.)  Finally, a test about GTOs!


I handed the draft board doctor a list of my allergy medications and shots, and got out.

My parents didn’t go AWOL on me.  They could have.  My dad was bemused by my work boots and jeans jacket, but he didn’t go Archie Bunker on me.  My dad took his marching orders from columnist Walter Lippmann, who called Vietnam a “quagmire.”

My parents waited.  My mother insisted I was still a good boy.  She had been saying that since I was in kindergarten.

I graduated college in due time. And I eventually went to the West Side — a lot.  You’re a good boy.  I can still hear my mother saying that.

Please see the next post too.  It’s new.

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March 9, 2011   3 Comments


Maybe a collage artist can do something with my yarmulke collection, from 22 years’ worth of gigs.  I know an artist — a bad one — who did something with old saxophone reeds.

yarmalka-quiltMy Guatemalan yarmulkes, crocheted by Mayan Indians, are from neo-hippie weddings.  There are no bouquet tosses, garter-belt strip routines, or formal introductions at these weddings.  The Mayan kippot (yarmulkes) are particularly popular with female rabbi brides. That’s a niche — weddings of women rabbis — that Yiddishe Cup has cornered in the Midwest.

bubby1The most heymish lids are grandmas’ knitted yarmulkes.

My blue suede yarmulkes are from A-1 Skull Caps.  The lids don’t breathe.  Skull cap. I like a yarmulke that breathes.

Camouflage kippahs exist, too.  One Yiddishe Cup musician, a pacifist, declined to wear his camo lid at a Zahal-themed bar mitzvah.  Zahal is the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  The bar mitzvah boy’s father wore combat boots and a full Israeli uniform.  The band wore IDF T-shirts and camouflage yarmulkes.  (Nobody noticed our musician in street clothes.)

beathing-yarmulke1I have six purple kippot from a bar mitzvah.  I thought the band might want to wear the lids again at another bar mitzvah.  Go for the clean David Clark Five look.  The guys declined.

We wore sports yarmulkes — plus basketball jerseys — at a sports-themed bar mitzvah party.  The party even had a cheerleading squad:

Mazel tov / Let’s shout hurray / It’s Jeremy and Sam’s bar mitzvah day!

I say oy / You say vey / Jeremy and Sam are men today!


Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, Alan Douglass, frequently asks, “Is this a yarmulke gig?”  He’s a goy and can’t figure out what’s up with the various Jewish denominations.

My Conservative rabbi wears a throwaway satin lid that funeral homes and synagogues give out.  He apparently doesn’t want to look different from his congregants. I haven’t asked yet — after 20 years — why he wears the throwaway.

My white satin yarmulke from Dec. 9, 2007 has “Ananth Uggirala” — the groom’s name — in it. The groom’s parents were Anjaneyulu and Manorama Uggirala.  I had to announce them.  Tip, please.

You need good hair clips for a yarmulke.  Bobby pins are the worst; they take your hair out with the yarmulke.  Duck bill clips – also no good.  The best clips are the surfboard barrettes.   If you don’t have these clips, get some, particularly for outdoor gigs.

If you drop a yarmulke, you don’t have to kiss it before putting it back on.  A lid is a lid.  It’s not a holy object.  Also, goys, wear the lid at the wedding ceremony; you’re not exempt.

At an American-Israeli wedding, one of the chuppah (bridal canopy) bearers smoked and balanced a drink.  His yarmulke fell off.  Secular Israelis, they’re funny that way.

It’s shocking when you see an Orthodox guy without a lid.  For instance, an Orthodox man might go into a non-kosher restaurant on a road trip and take his yarmulke off.  (Some Orthodox, when in the sticks, will go to a fast-food place for a salad.)

I wore a yarmulke for a week when I hitchhiked the coast of California in my twenties.  I had seen a photo of Bob Dylan wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall.  Dylan did yahm-ops at The Wall every couple decades, it seemed.


My Easter basket of yahms makes for a moderately interesting pop-psych experiment on shabbes: Who is going to take the pink, who is going to take the matzo-textured lid, and who is going to hide behind the black lid?

Have fun with lids.  That’s in the Torah somewhere.

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January 5, 2011   9 Comments



My father’s triumvirate of sports heroes was Bob Feller, Harrison Dillard and Jesse Owens.

My father, Toby, went to Ohio State during the Owens era.  My dad lived in the stadium where Owens ran.  (The stadium had a dorm in it.)

Who was Dillard?  I think he won gold medals in track in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics.  [No, it was the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.]

fellerToby bought an insurance policy from Bob Feller.  Toby bought the insurance mostly so he could say, “Bob Feller was in my house.”  Feller inscribed How to Pitch to me. I was 12.   “To my friend Albert.”  Ouch.

Last week’s obituaries on Bob Feller mentioned Feller’s father’s influence on young Bob’s pitching.

Ditto: my dad and my pitching. My father taught me the big-kick windup like Feller (or Marichal) in our driveway.

I didn’t pitch my first year in Little League. I played outfield.

I ran into my Little League manager, Mr. Feldman, at a Yiddishe Cup gig.  I didn’t recognize him, but he knew me.  Mr. Feldman mentioned his sports triumvirate: Zuckerman, Hyatt and Stone.*  Zuckerman, shortstop, became a successful real estate developer in Atlanta; Hyatt (formerly Zylberberg), infield, had been a U.S. Senate candidate and was now a multi-millionaire macher in California; and Stone, first base, was a doctor. “You were good boys,” Mr. Feldman said.


My dad became manager the next year. One of Toby’s lessons to the boys was about nepotism.  I pitched.

I didn’t throw the “very small ball,” as Casey Stengel described Feller’s ball.  I threw the large beach ball.  Luckily, I was a lefty, which rattled a few batters.

The big lesson from Bob Feller’s How to Pitch:  Pitch balls.  Pitch insurance.  Keep pitching.

* “Stone, first base” — in Mr. Feldman’s triumvirate — is made up.  I can’t remember who the third player Mr. Feldman mentioned, but the player was definitely a doctor or lawyer.

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December 24, 2010   3 Comments


My father, Toby, ate his last meal out at Wendy’s on his way to Columbus, Ohio, for experimental leukemia treatments.

He checked in to the hospital, then checked out, so to speak.

My father liked Wendy’s (headquartered in Columbus) because he had a quasi-business relationship with the company.  Toby had almost invested in Wendy’s before it went national.  Almost. Toby’s near-miss with Wendy’s stock topped any of my uncles’ near-miss sagas at Seder.

Toby liked fast food. He and I often ate at McDonald’s on the West Side.  I got the Filet-O-Fish.  I thought it was good for me.

Toby explained franchising: the franchisor took a percentage of the action for eternity. Toby had been a franchisee/sucker with a cosmetics company – and he knew something about the food business too.  He especially knew about chazerai (junk).  Toby had worked in his mother’s candy store, dipping ice cream bars into vats of chocolate, and writing “free” on a few wooden ice cream sticks.  Very few.

When I visited my father’s grave the first couple times, I brought along Mr. Goodbars.  Once, a Planters Peanut.  (The bars were for me, by the way.)


I raised the rent on the flower-shop guy a mere $10 per month. Toby smiled and said, “You’re a nice guy.”  I think Toby’s smile — a rarity — meant he was glad I wasn’t a total hardass like him.  We had arrived.

Decades later, I sat at the West Side McDonald’s with my oldest son, Ted, 28.  I now knew the Filet-O-Fish was a calorie bomb, so I ordered the chicken Caesar salad.  Ted, like his late grandfather Toby, ordered a huge burger.

I was instructing my son on the watchword of our people: Don’t be a sucker.

Lesson one: The first generation (Grandpa) scrapes, the second (Dad) tries to keep things on keel, and the third (Ted) needs tutorials in toughness because he doesn’t remember his grandfather.

During Toby’s final days, the Cleveland Clinic nurses called him “chief” because he was so bossy.  A doc said, “You’re a hard one.”  Toby answered, “That’s right.  It’s my life.”  A nurse wondered if Toby was in the medical field because he had a stack of homemade medical folders.

Toby was flattered. The closest Toby had come to the medical field was a dental school acceptance in the 1950s, but he couldn’t afford to go because he had kids.

I told my son not to forget the little things: pens, checks, camera, Post-It notes.  Lesson one: “Write everything down.  You don’t want to think about ‘cold water leak, Webb #24 bathroom sink,'” I said.

Lesson two: Be wary of restaurant workers, particularly chefs and servers.  They come home late, party hard, and wake up the solid-citizen tenants in the building.

Lesson three: Always Be Closing.  ABC.   That was from a David Mamet play/movie, and was a joke between my son and me.  My son, like every other young person, enjoyed quoting movies verbatim.

I thought of a non-movie line for Ted.  I said, “If the tenant hasn’t mailed his rent, say, ‘Do not mail in your late rent.  Hand it to the custodian.  Hand it.’ We don’t want to wonder if the post office has lost the check.”

Ted seemed more interested in his burger.  I wasn’t up to Mamet’s standards.

“The job sucks on some level!” I said.  That got the boy’s attention.  “You make it interesting.  It took me a while.”


My father dragged me to a lightning-round tutorial with Cousin Gershy.  (Gershy is short for Gershon.)  Gershy looked horrible — three strokes and two heart attacks.  My dad didn’t look much better.

Gershy had shotguns over the mantle, plus a longhorn steer horn and shalom plaques.  “You wouldn’t believe it, but I used to be a shtarker,” Gershy said.   (Strong guy/bully.)

I believed it.

Gershy said, “You’ve got that little curl in the tail — that little something different — that something the new treatment doesn’t cure.   You’re in trouble.  They say, ‘We can’t straighten out your tail. You’re dead.’  That’s what the doctors tell me.”

Gershy’s steer horn cost $50.  A gun dealer, who had sold the horn to Gershy, wanted it back.  “Gun dealers is a funny ballpark,” Gershy said.  “He could shoot me, but a deal is a deal.  That’s the way it is.”

Gershy owned a shopping strip center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights.

His price was too high, Toby said.

“If the kid is interested,” Gershy said, looking at me. “I’d come down.”

“It’s up to the kid,” Toby said.

“I’ll work with him,” Gershy said.


Driving home, Toby said, “Gershy has mellowed.”

Mellowed? Gershy would not pass for mellow in my Donovan world.

“And he’s a gonif,” Toby said.  “Don’t buy anything from him.”

I didn’t.

At McDonald’s, I told my son, “If a real estate broker claims operating expenses are forty-five percent, he’s delusional.  Building operating ratios are higher than that.”  I slid a Wall Street Journal across the table.  “Take it.  Take the paper.”  The Journal was the best I could offer.  I didn’t see any Gershys or Tobys around.  Unless you count me.

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June 16, 2010   6 Comments


A handful of klezmer musicians have PhDs and do klezmer-related research.  Hankus Netsky, Walter Zev Feldman, Joel Rubin, Jeffrey Wollock, and probably a few others I’m not aware of.

These men have put in time at the library as well as in the practice studio.  Some speak Yiddish and other foreign languages.  They know  obscure facts.  For instance, there was a close link between klezmer musicians and barbers, “considered one of the lower [professions] among the Jews . . . The barber was considered slightly below the server — the professional baker at weddings — and equal to the midwife.”  (Walter Zev Feldman, “Klezmer Musicians of Galicia,” Polin, Studies in Polish Jewry, Vol. 16, 2003)

These klez researchers often interview old people.  Hankus Netsky — he is so good at interviewing old people he should run a nursing home.  His PhD thesis was on the culture of old-school, 20th-century Philadelphia Jewish wedding musicians.

Interestingly, Netsky and the other PhDs are now kind of old themselves.  Fifties and up.  (Hankus is The Sage.)

For my research (non-academic), I focused on these new klez docs and their peers.  I bought recordings from nearly every klezmer band at the end of the 20th century.  I have CDs and tapes from Di Gojim, a Dutch goy band; Aufwind, a kraut klez band; and even the Alaska Klezmer Band.

Then I gave up. Too much product.  Every Beryl, Meryl and Shmeryl klezmer band was putting out recordings.  Yiddishe Cup — four CDs from them alone.

However, I did keep up with klezmer literature.  Real easy.  Not much product.  There hasn’t been a book on klezmer in at least eight years. The book-buying market spoke and said “No market.”

Here, for example, are some manuscripts looking for publishers:

Call Me Henry . . . No, Hank.  An in-depth look at American Jewish identity by Henry “Hank” Sapoznik, a klezmer and old time banjo player.

100 Jewish Music Insults by Pete Sokolow, pianist.  Putdowns that really work. Culled from the first 10 minutes of a five-hour interview with Sokolow.  Try these the next time you’re at a klezmer jam session:

1. What’s your phone number? Junior congregation needs a clarinetist.
2. You’re slicker than butter on matzo, but there’s no salt.
3. Tighten your neck strap.  Tighter.
4. You couldn’t find freygish with a GPS.  [Freygish is a mode.]
5. I make desk lamps. Let me see your clarinet.

Where Klezmer Meets Corn, a memoir by “Klezmer Guy,” about a klez band’s one-night stands (concerts primarily) in the Midwest.  Some senior sex.

My Tsimbl is in Tune, a mystery by Pete Rushefsky, tsimblist.

Tattoo Jews by Mark Rubin, bass player.  A true-life account of large drawn-on Texas Jews taking on Los Tigres del Norte for bar mitzvah share in Ciudad Juarez.

Where’s Mincha, Helmut? funded by the German National Tourist Board’s “Deutschland ♥ Jews” initiative.  Subtitled “A Jewish Musician’s Guide to Germany.”  By Joel Ruben with Rita Ottens.   [Mincha is the afternoon service.]

Friends of Molly.  A steamy romance about a chick minyan — Friends of Molly — that reconnoiters annually at a Catskill hotel sauna.  By Eve Sicular, bandleader of the Isle of Klezbos.  [A minyan is 10 Jews.]

Just Say “You?” by Michael Wex, Canadian Yiddishist and writer.  Includes  dining-room seating charts from historic klez conferences.  Who sat with whom, why, and what happened post–mandelbroit and coffee. [Mandelbroit is Jewish biscotti.]

Old is the New Thin by Hankus Netsky.  How to improve your love life by looking and acting 10 years older than you really are.  Comes with a CD, Music to Suffer By, from the New Thin Department, New England Conservatory.

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April 7, 2010   8 Comments



Musician Mickey Katz called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.”   He drank them at Solomon’s on E. 105th Street.

I drank mine at Solomon’s at the Cedar Center shopping strip, where Solomon’s moved to.

For some Semitic semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. Now it kind of is.  The north side of Cedar Center is concrete chunks and gravel heaps. A real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and plans to redevelop.  Who knows when.

Solomon’s was my family’s deli of choice. My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.”  In the Jewish world, that’s usually a putdown, meaning the person knows more about corned beef than Rashi.  Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

Toby, a phosphate fan, probably didn’t drink more than a dozen real beers his whole life.  He should have.  In his retirement, when he drank booze he smiled a lot more.  A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. That stuck with me.  [Shiker is drunk.]

Toby grew up in a deli. His mother had a candy store/ deli at E. 118 Street and Kinsman Road. She sold it to her half-brother when he came over from the Old Country.  Something fishy about that deal — something involving the half-brother’s wife.   My grandmother went from candy store/deli owner to simply candy store owner.  Not a lateral move.

At the Gaza Strip, there was also Corky & Lenny’s. (Still around — four miles east.)   A couple small Jews hung out in the rear booth at Corky’s.  One was Harvey, who did collections for a major landlord.  (Major, to me, means more than 1,000 units.)  I knew Harvey from junior high.

He sued my mother.  My mother, for health reasons, moved from her Beachwood apartment after 27 years into an assisted living facility.  She had a couple months left on her lease.  Harvey, who represented the major landlord, went after her.  Harvey’s boss, by the way, loved my band.   So what.  My mother was collectable.

Freelance journalist David Sax just wrotea book about the decline of delis.  Here’s something for the second edition, David: Delis went downhill when they added TVs.  Now you have to watch the Browns while you eat.

I was deli-famous.  At Jack’s Delion Green Road, I had a thank-you note up in the entrance.   My letter was about the terrific tray for my firstborn’s bris.  Fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish.  What a blast.  (I ordered the exact same tray for my daughter’s naming.)

I complimented Jack’s Deli on its fish, which my Aunt Bernice, The Maven, also liked.   I mentioned “The Maven’s seal of approval” in my letter.  Bernice work for a food broker and knew food.

My letter was up for a couple years.

(Acknowledgment to Henry Sapoznik for “fork-lore” in this story’s title.)


2.  ’DINES

The trend at mass-feed kiddushes (post-service temple chows) is toward Israeli foods: hummus, baba ganoush, Israeli salad.

When you privatize — and don’t invite the whole congregation — you typically add some fish.

All Jews like a good piece of fish: lox, smoked fish, herring, the occasional sardine.

My youngest son recently called  from Trader Joe’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and said, “Don’t get excited, Dad, but do I want the sardines in oil or water?”


I did get excited.  My college kid was finally getting into ’dines.

My mother had given me about eight cans of ’dines when I went off to college.  I ate them on Sunday evenings, when the dorm cafeteria was closed.  (This was back when sardine cans opened with a key, and the ’dines were Portuguese — not Moroccan like now.)  Surprisingly – to me at least – the guys in the dorm wouldn’t share my ’dines. Pizza time.

I liked all kinds of ’dines.  Even the monster-size sardines in tomato sauce were OK.  Bones, no bones . . .  no matter.  Cajun sauce, soya oil, olive oil, mustard sauce . . .  all good. Four ’dines in a can, two in a can . . . either way.

Anchovies?  Also, an excellent choice. Make sure you buy your anchovies in a bottle; they last longer than in cans.

Herring in wine sauce.   Beware.  Last month Heinen’s supermarket substituted Vita brand for Golden Herring.  That was lamentable.  Vita is too sugary.

At luncheons, the other Yiddishe Cup musicians don’t seem to appreciate the fish (i.e., the “dairy spread” in kosher parlance) as much as I do.  Yes, they like the lox.  Lox is apple pie.  But the other items (smoked fish excluded) get little play from the band.  You should see the mountains of herring left over.

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October 21, 2009   17 Comments


There’s no money in the arts. My old clarinet teacher told me that.  He used to eat salami sandwiches while I took lessons.  That stunk.  Mr. Golub.

He bought a building across from his music store; named the building after his daughter, The Joyce Manor; and sold it years later.  He said he regretted he didn’t move with his brother to D.C. and make an even bigger killing there in a real boom town.

Golub’s Music Center.  He had a neon saxophone on the sign.  That, alone, drew the customers.  Inside, there were bongos and guitars.

Mr. Golub couldn’t play by ear. That mystified him.

Mystifies me — playing by ear. But I can do it —  somewhat.

I’m the klezmer guy.  I go to shivas (funeral wakes) and tell the mourners that, and, yeah, they recognize me. They say, “Oh, you’re the klezmer guy.”

Everybody needs to be some kind of  “guy” (or “gal”).  Cable guy.  Computer guy.  Pool guy.  I became the klezmer guy because I put together the longest-lasting Jewish band between Chicago and D.C.  Yiddishe Cup.

No mega money in this but it keeps me from going nuts.

My day job is real estate.  I’m a landlord.  I own and manage apartment buildings.  People call me up about low-water pressure, mice, clanging radiators.  I generally don’t fix the stuff; I usually hire repairmen.  My father used to say, “I didn’t send you to college to paint walls.”  Well, I painted a few walls anyway and pointed some bricks,  but that’s not my calling.

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May 12, 2009   4 Comments